Asos recently announced an 87% drop in profits following “a difficult year” much to the surprise of a lot of people. Many fashion retailers had a tricky 2018 due, in part, to consumer confidence waning in the run up to Brexit. This, plus some really interesting factors relating to the weather, lead to heavy discounting as Dan Barker noted in a Twitter thread on the subject.
Asos had grown so much in recent years that this announcement has come as a bit of a surprise. One of the points in the BBC’s coverage of it, which caught the attention of SEOs, was this quote about microsites:
To stay competitive, the retailer launched 200 localised microsites – smaller sites which perform alongside its main website – which had a negative effect on Asos’ search engine rankings.Asos’ Interim Results Statement
At Optix we’re often asked about the best way to implement international SEO so we were interested in what they had tried to do and, more interestingly, what had gone wrong.
As is often the case with press coverage of SEO, the BBC had got their terminology wrong and confused things slightly. Asos have not launched 200 microsites, at least not in the way most of us would think of a microsite. It looks like their mircosites are actually sections of the main site rather than sitting on a separate domain.
The issue that’s caused them SEO concerns, judging by their press release, is their expansion into new territories:
Traffic was further impacted by some instability in SEO performance, which led to a decline in Search Engine Ranking Positions (“SERPs”). This was caused by multiple customer navigation changes to our websites and our release of 200 local web experiences, which whilst strategically the right thing to do, had an impact on SEO rankings in the short term.Asos’ Interim Results Statement
While the site used to have a drop down offering domains for 8 countries, it now has drop down which lists 200 “experiences”. These include Vatican City as well as both the Dutch and French parts of Saint Martin in the Netherlands. The listed locations don’t each have their own domain but there are different domains, subfolders and language options for different audiences.
Asos didn’t even have an SSL certificate (an SEO ranking factor) last summer so they clearly have some challenges internally with SEO. As I noted last year they probably have a very good Head of SEO who is struggling to get their recommendations implemented.
According to an analysis using SEMrush, the Asos domain brought in around 13m organic session in the UK in March 2016 which dropped to 10.5m in March 2017 and 8.7m this past March.
I don’t know when the international elements of the site were added but it seems like the site has been loosing SEO authority over the last few years. They also appear to have experienced a significant drop in September 2018, as you can see in the graph of Search Engine exposure above.
It’s hard to see exactly what’s gone wrong with a brief analysis like this, but it’s clear, in part due to ASOS’ admissions in their statement, that their SEO was significantly damaged by changes to the site. Launching new sites or site sections for multiple international locations can be a very difficult process to manage from an SEO point of view, as can changing a site’s design and layout. These types of changes need to be handled very carefully, particularly if you’re reliant on organic traffic to keep your profits steady in a difficult market.